Draught Diversions: Interview with Mike Kivowitz of NJ Craft Beer

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

Welcome to Jersey Beer Week at the Tap Takeover! A week long celebration of all things Beer in New Jersey. This is the second (or third?) year New Jersey Craft Beer is spear-heading the initiative, a week of events at NJ Breweries, bars featuring NJ Beer nights, and a week to #DrinkLocal and enjoy New Jersey beer rather beer from out of state.

To help kick off the week here at the Tap Takeover I figured I’d interview Mike Kivowitz, the main man in the New Jersey beer community who created New Jersey Craft Beer almost 10 years ago. I’ve met and chatted with Mike at a few events and breweries over the years and you won’t meet a nicer guy who has great taste in beer. Talking to him,  you get a sense of just how much he enjoys the community…and how much he enjoys seeing others take part in the New Jersey Beer Community.

Mike is one of the major reasons why the New Jersey beer community is the great place it has become over the last decade. New Jersey Craft Beer is a great resource for all things NJ Beer, whether it is information about Breweries in the state, stores that feature NJ beer, or a calendar of beer events in NJ.

The best part, for me and many members, is the Loyalty Program in the form of the NJCB Discount Card. For just $25 per year, you get an New Jersey Craft Beer card (all of mine are pictured below) which gets you discounts at liquor stores (the majority of the stores in my area offer 10% off all craft beer purchases), a range of discounts at breweries (money off flights or merchandise, for example), discounts at restaurants (anywhere between $1 off each beer you purchase to 10% off the entire bill!), and discounts at various beer events (Beer Festivals, Beer/Brewery Sponsored 5K races, etc). In short, it is the absolute best $25 I spend every year and often pays for itself by March. If you are visiting a brewery in New Jersey, there’s a decent chance you’ll run into Mike or one of his many co-conspirators.

Without further adieu, here’s a 12 pack worth of questions for our interview.

1. I’m sure most of the visitors to this blog have a passing knowledge of NJCB, but what is your TV Guide description of NJCB?

The source for beer in NJ with a loyalty program designed to explore beer all over the state.

2. What is this whole New Jersey Craft Beer Week all about, then?

Drinking in Jersey. Drinking Jersey beer.

3. New Jersey Craft Beer was founded in 2010, almost a decade later and the beer landscape has evolved. What is the biggest change to Craft Beer in NJ since you started NJCB?

The growth of local offerings. I launched NJCB with like 14 breweries on the list, now it’s 115+. Local breweries lead to bars and stores carrying more local.

Editor’s Note: The About page on New Jersey Craft Beer shows the large growth of the organization since its inception in 2010.

4. What is the most challenging and frustrating element of running NJCB?

Getting people to go to events. Everyone has events all the time. Getting support for some of them is hard. Especially when I spend like 70 hours of work on a 3 hour event and 10 people come. It’s souring but I learn and try harder next time.

5. What is the most rewarding element of being the go to guy for all things beer in New Jersey?

Meeting people and seeing how NJCB has changed their lives.

6. It might show some bias if I asked you your favorite NJ beer and brewery so I’ll ask you what your favorite style is and favorite non-NJ brewery.

West Coast IPAs will always be my favorite style. Firestone Walker is a good example of a non-NJ brewery I love.

7. What would you say is the one thing you would like people in NJ to get out of New Jersey Craft Beer?

Have fun. It’s beer. Just get moving and see what’s going on outside the keyboard you are reading this on. Ohhh, be nice too.

8. What 2 or 3 breweries in NJ deserve more attention? Everybody knows Kane, Carton, Magnify, etc. But with over 100 breweries, some are likely to fall through the cracks or not be as widely known.

Kelly Green Brewing, Vinyl Brewing, Bonesaw Brewing, Czig Meister Brewing, Hackensack Brewing and I can go on.

Editor’s Note: I wholeheartedly agree with Mike’s suggestions of Czig Meister Brewing and Hackensack Brewing Company.

9. What beer do you want to have again for the first time?

Spellbound’s Vices Porter on nitro I want everyday.

10. Do you have any correspondences or work in conjunction with similar organizations in neighboring states? Like Breweries in PA or NY Craft Beer?

I mean, yes and no. Most of the people I know that run other sites, I knew back in in and before I launched NJCB. Like Brew York New York for example. Some of the new guys like Breweries in PA started because of NJCB and reached out for input. I’ll talk to anyone, just don’t try to rip me off and steal my baby like that Instagram guy that’s now out of business. I don’t want to mention their name though.

11. Despite some of the obstacles, the number of breweries in New Jersey has grown consistently since 2012. Aside from the quality of the beer itself, what do you think are the key factors that will help a brewery succeed in New Jersey?

Quality is #1. Everything else is sort of hard to explain. See, some breweries just want to remain downtown/main street and not promote their beer on shelves but then they don’t want to do events, then when they do events, it’s like ohhh, I can only get this at one or two places around the brewery and not anywhere else. Then there’s the opposite where places only package the standard stuff and no one can get it anywhere else but the brewery but they sell kegs at every bar. Those people don’t want to leave their house. Sooo distro, labels/artwork, sales people, educated retailers. I can probably lump more into #2.

12. This question will likely generate a lengthy response, but here goes. With the evolving laws around beer in NJ, specifically the limits being placed on small, independent breweries, what can individuals do to prevent the rules from halting the great progressive growth of breweries and goodwill in the NJ Beer Community?

Editor’s Note: Visit SaveNJBeer.com for more information on the laws that could significantly impact many of the independent breweries in NJ.

Speak up. Write to your local officials and explain how you spend money and where and why. Also, get informed on the actual laws and wording. There’s 1 thing we need to do and that’s work together.

Draught Diversions: Spellbound Brewing (Mount Holly, NJ)

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

Today, another brewery from the vibrant Mount Holly area is featured here at the Tap Takeover. Since opening in 2014, Spellbound Brewing has been crafting tasty, award-winning beer and attracting loyal customers and fans to their brewery and beer. The story may be familiar: homebrewing friends, in this case Mike Oliver, John Companick, and Scott Reading, made beer their friends liked so they figured they’d start a brewery. With the law change in 2012, opening a brewery, and making a hangout destination, became a viable option. They settled on the name Spellbound after whittling down a list of fifty names with the aim of something that would have appeal beyond the borders of New Jersey. Personally, I love the name, but I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction and played Dungeons and Dragons so the name appeals to me. Plus that logo is absolutely fantastic.

Spellbound Lineup (Courtesy of Spellbound’s Facebook)

The brewery is nestled in an industrial area, but it is far from ordinary. There’s a fancy black gate that opens to a path which leads to the brewery doors. Entering the brewery you’ll see the hand-written tap list on the far wall, a beautiful bar along the right side, some tables along the middle, and a refrigerator for some packaged beer to bring home. The heart of the brewery, of course, is the beer.

The Taplist on the day of our visit , November 17, 2018

The brewery has a focus on some core styles and beers: IPA, Porter, Porter aged on Palo Santo Wood (GABF Silver and Gold!), Cherry Belgian Tripel, Peach IPA, Major Nelson, and Pale Ale.

It was a gray day in November and Spellbound was the second brewery I visited on the day and out of the six breweries visited that day, their beers stood out the most. We also visited shortly after their 4th anniversary party, so there were some special beers still available. I had a couple of their beers about a year ago and I’ve been aware of Spellbound for a few years.

I’ve seen people who have checked into their beers on untappd (especially Mike K of NJ Craft Beer) rate them fairly highly or have good things to say about their beers. One of the people I managed about a year ago brought me some of their beer, he lived near the brewery and knows some of the guys who either work at the brewery or started it. One of the beers was Spellbound’s most popular beer, their IPA. At the time I was still on the fence for IPAs, but this one from Spellbound helped me turn the corner and since then, I’ve really embrace IPAs as a style to seek out.

The other beer is even more impressive and is an indicator of the type of quality beer Spellbound Brewing was producing early in their “career.” The beer – Porter aged on Palo Santo Wood – received the Gold Medal Gold Medal at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival in the “Wood Aged Category.” Not bad for a small brewery only about 3 years old. I liked the beer so much, it ranked #4 on my Favorite “New to Me” beers of 2017.

Those beers are available in New Jersey in stores and in a growing number of bars. But on to the beers I had during my visit to the brewery…

There were many beers to choose form on that day I visited, From the taplist (pictured at the top of this post) I selected the Peach IPA, Major Nelson Pale Ale, Cherry Belgian Tripel, and Living the Dream?! Bourbon Barrel Stout.

I drank the beers out of order.

The Peach IPA was good, but I was expecting the peach to sweeten the finish more than it did. There was a nice hop profile, but the sweetness was less pronounced than I hoped it would be. This was the beer I liked the least of the flight. By no means a bad beer, but one always has to settle to the bottom.

Courtesy of Spellbound’s Facebook

I broke up the hop forward beers with the Cherry Belgian Tripel, which stood out as my favorite beer from Spellbound during the visit. The cherry compliments the Belgian-style yeast perfectly. I would be interested in trying Spellbound’s take on a straightforward Tripel without the cherry. I liked it so much I brought home a 4-pack.

I know it isn’t the proper glassware for a Tripel, but I usually default to the brewery;s glassware

The next beer, the Major Nelson Pale Ale was the most surprising beer from them that day and was really popping with wonderful citrusy hop flavor. Listed on untappd as a “Pale Ale – New Zealand,” I’ve come to really like the hops from New Zealand. This is a beer I’d have as a regular rotation beer. I finished off the flight with the biggest beer Living the Dream?! Bourbon Barrel Stout. This is a really nice barrel aged stout aged on Coffee and Maple.

Couldn’t pass up this beer since my father-in-law’s name is Nelson. Glad I didn’t because the beer is damned tasty.

Those were the beers I had while at the brewery on that day, but I suspect I’ll be enjoying more of their beer. Why? Over the past six months or so, I’ve been seeing Spellbound cans appearing on the shelves in stores around me. Mainly their three core beers, IPA, Pale Ale, and Porter. This is a good thing for NJ consumers because Spellbound’s beers are on point for the style they are trying to represent and above average compared to styles made by other breweries. That Palo Santo Porter, as I said, is an outstanding beer. Spellbound Brewing may not have the reputation that the heavy hitters of NJ brewing have (Kane, Carton, for example), but I haven’t really seen anybody in the online community say anything negative about the quality of the beer.

I’ve written about the community element relative to independent/local/craft breweries and that sense of community is evident with Spellbound Brewing. Most recently, as a result of Spellbound’s 4th Annual Century Bicycle Ride, the brewery was able to raise $33,000 (bringing the four year total raised by the Bicycle ride to $70K) to donate to Mounty Holly Township. They’ve partnered with fellow Mount Holly brewery Village Idiot for an annual holiday Toy Drive, too. They often have Food Trucks in the parking lot and have had book signings for local authors.

Would I recommend visiting Spellbound Brewing? Without hesitation. A comfortable taproom, beers that are well above average, and beers you can enjoy on premises or take home make for an ideal brewery visit…especially if there are some food trucks in the parking lot. Whether you want to spend a couple of hours at the brewery or make Spellbound part of a brewery tour (as I did) given the quantity of breweries in the immediate region, Mount Holly and Spellbound Brewing should be a destination for folks looking for quality beer in NJ.

One of the coolest logos / art pieces / backdrops I’ve seen at a NJ brewery

Spellbound Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | twitter

Some other links of interest:

 

Draught Diversions: St. Patrick’s Day 2018

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

If Oktoberfest is the Fall holiday for beer, then St. Patrick’s Day, the day when everybody is Irish, is certainly the Late Winter/Spring Holiday day for beer. Not just a holiday for a specific style of beer, but a brand, some would say. Guinness, of course. Guinness is far from the only beer option (or even Irish Stout) to enjoy on and around St. Patrick’s Day, so I’ll touch on a few of those. But I’ll start with Guinness itself.

Guinness, the most popular and best selling stout in the world is still quite well regarded by many craft beer folks despite being such a global brand. When it comes to stouts, especially Irish Stouts, few compare to Guinness especially when the line from the keg to the tap is short. A nice touch is when the bartender adds a four-leaf clover to the head.

Guinness has been expanding their portfolio here in the U.S. over the past handful of years, including a Blonde Ale (the less said the better), an “Irish Wheat” that was surprisingly tasty, and several stouts. They offer up a Milk Stout as well as a Belgian-inspired Antwerpen Stout. The Guinness I’m really looking forward to trying, though, is the 200th Anniversary Export Stout, brewed in late 2017 in honor of the 200th anniversary since Guinness was first shipped to America.

The “other” Irish Stout, Murphy’s is also an excellent example of the style. It has been many, many years since I enjoyed a Murphy’s. I may have to change that soon.

Many American brewers try to evoke the style as well. This may not come as a shock to folks who read this blog regularly, but my favorite is probably Victory Brewing’s offering: Donnybrook Stout. I believe this is a draft only beer as I’ve never seen it in bottles or cans, but I recall the beer hitting the same notes as Guinness does, and to a fairly successful degree. Breckenridge Brewery has a “Nitro Dry Irish Stout” that is very much playing into the whole Guinness beer profile, too. Of course, Breckenridge is one of a growing number of American Craft Breweries purchased by Anheuser-Busch and part of its “High End” brand initiative.

It isn’t all about the Stouts on St. Patrick’s Day, though. Smithwick’s is the brand name for the Red Ale the fine folks at Guinness brew and distribute. For years this was a go-to beer for me. I even prefer a “Black and Red” or “BlackSmith” to the traditional “Black and Tan.” Smithwick’s may be the quintessential Irish Red Ale and again, many American brewers try to evoke the style.

I miss this logo from the beer. The new red logo looks like Bud and doesn’t stand out at all.

For my beer drinking dollar, the best of the American interpretations of an Irish Red Ale is – hands down, no discussion – Great Lakes Brewing’s Conway’s Irish Ale. I seem to alternate going with this or something from Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day.  Great Lakes (rightfully so) makes a big deal out of this one on St. Patrick’s Day.

I’ve only touched upon some a few of the seasonal/holiday appropriate brews to enjoy (responsibly!) during a St. Patrick’s Day celebration, I know.* Of course, some Jameson would also be perfectly appropriate or one of the caskmates brews they’ve brewed in collaboration with a few American Craft brewers, like the Craic they partnered with River Horse here in New Jersey to brew last year. This beer is really tough to find and I haven’t had much luck yet.

Some other NJ breweries are getting in on the fun, too.*

*Gotta save some for next year’s St. Patrick’s Day post, right? 

For some Irish brews to enjoy for St. Patrick’s Day, take a look at this great article by Jason Notte.

There you have it. A quick rundown of some of the more widely available and widely known seasonally appropriate brews for St. Patrick’s Day as well as a handful of beers from some NJ Breweries. I know there are many more, so drop a note in the comments to let me know of a good one I may have overlooked.

Draught Diversions: Book Review COOKING WITH BEER by Mark Dredge

Name: Cooking with Beer by Mark Dredge
Publisher’s Landing Page: Ryland, Peters, and Small
Mark Dredge’s landing page for the book

About the book:

75 delicious recipes using beer as a key ingredient.

A beer with your food is a great thing. But what about beer in your food? It’s an even better thing! The next step for any beer lover is to try using beer as an ingredient, and that’s where COOKING WITH BEER comes in. Self-confessed beer geek Mark Dredge has combined two of his passions—great brews and delicious food—to come up with over 65 awesome recipes using beer as a key component.

Every occasion is covered, from lazy hangover brunches featuring a beer-cured bacon sandwich and Hefeweizen French toast to tasty main meals like Tripel Pulled Pork and desserts including a must-try Carrot Cake made with a Double IPA. If you really want to go to town, the Ultimate section has meal ideas where every element involves beer in some way—beer pizza anyone? And of course there is a selection of beer snacks that you can enjoy with a well-earned pint in your hand.

As I may have mentioned, prior to starting The Tap Takeover, I wrote book reviews for many years at a few different outlets: SFFWorldSF Signal, and Tor.com. I still do review books for two of those sites (sadly SF Signal closed a couple of years ago) so I figured reviewing a book about beer a natural fit for The Tap Takeover. Hopefully, I’ll be writing about more beer-related books in the future.

I received this cookbook as a gift for Christmas in 2016 and through early 2017, my wife (with only limited assistance from me) made many of the recipes in the book. But more about some of those recipes in a bit.

The book begins with an introduction to pairing beer with food, the various styles of beer, and the best meals to incorporate each beer into as a cooking component. From there, the chapters are broken into “Breakfast,” “Snacks and Starters,” “Mains and More,” “Ultimate Meals,” “Baking,” and lastly, “Sweet Things.”

Each recipe is spread over two pages and includes the instructions (occasionally including a specific brand of beer to use), a picture of the finished meal along with a suggestion of a beer pairing to enjoy while eating the meal. The information presented and –how– the information is presented make this a superb cookbook in terms of the physical product; good fonts, clear writing, and lovely photos.

A cookbook can look great, but the most important aspect of any cookbook is that the recipes must produce good food when executed properly. As I said, my wife and I made many of the recipes in this book and with the exception of one (largely because I realized an ingredient in it just isn’t to my liking), the meals were terrific.

Image courtesy of Mark Dredge’s Web site

Standouts include the chicken wings pictured above. Simply outstanding wings that have been the hit of wherever we’ve brought them. Although they are quite spicy, they are not buffalo spiced wings and are brined overnight using an IPA. The last time we made them we used Victory’s Mighty Things Imperial IPA. Prior to that, we used Spellbound Brewing’s IPA. I think next time I want to try it with Founders Centennial IPA or Flying Fish Jersey Juice. The only thing about this “Snack and Starter” is the sauce on the side which while tasty, wasn’t used too much any of the times we made the wings.

Another standout, and perhaps my favorite dinner from the cookbook is the Triple Tripel Pork. There are three courses to this meal and each one utilizes some of the beer. The one time we made it we used Valar Dohaeris, one of the Game of Thrones beers from Brewery Ommegang. I really need to have this meal again as it was probably the best pork chop meal I ever had. Plus it will give me an “excuse” to try another Tripel.

The dessert standout, thus far, has been the Framboise Lemon Cake, which is a very straightforward raspberry-lemon cake but oh so delicious. The beer for this one was a classic Belgian Lambic, Framboise from Brouwerij Lindemans.

Great food/meals, a great look and design, and the opportunity to explore new and different beers. In other words, this book has just about everything you would want from a cookbook with recipes featuring beer. Except maybe a coupon for a free six pack of beer.

Highly recommended.

Beer Review: Spellbound Brewing’s Porter Aged on Palo Santo Wood

Name: Porter Aged on Palo Santo Wood
Brewing Company: Spellbound Brewing
Location: Mount Holly, NJ
Style: Porter
ABV: 6.9%

From the beer’s description about halfway down the “Our Beers” section of Spellbound Brewing’s Web site:

Our year round porter aged on palo santo wood. The palo santo brings out more of the chocolate flavor. The beer changes flavors and aromas as it warms. Most notable are chocolate, vanilla, anise, and even hints of mint.

Spellbound Brewing is one of many independent craft breweries to open in New Jersey over the past couple of years. I’d been curious about their output since learning about them. From what I’ve gathered they make well-received beers and have a fairly diverse portfolio of beers. Also, they have one of the best logos of any NJ Brewery. My interest was piqued further when the great Pete Genovose (NJ food writer) had good things to say on twitter about the brewery. Then a couple of months ago, this beer was awarded a Gold Medal at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival in the “Wood Aged Category.” I knew I had to try at least one of their beers sooner rather than later, especially this one. My only issue with the brewery is that Spellbound is a relatively long drive for me, but fortunately one of the folks on the team I began managing in November lives close to Spellbound, knows the brewers and was able to get me a four pack, as well as the IPA, which is also quite good

Two porters in a row under review here at The Tap Takeover, I know, but this is such an outstanding beer I wanted to write about it immediately. The beer has the great black look of most porters and the aroma as you crack open the can hints at chocolate and a bit of roast. The first sip is just … everything I ever wanted in a porter. Perfect mouthfeel (I almost hate typing that, if I’m still to be honest), but this one definitely feels exactly how I expect a porter to feel.

As the beer evolves over the course of drinking it, both on the sip and as it sits in the glass, sweet chocolate flavors emerge making this into something of a dessert beer. Upon finishing and getting the full array of flavors, something magical happened. Letting the beer age on Palo Santo wood gave the beer sweet, slightly bittersweet, cocoa flavors. I didn’t get the mint that the label suggested, but maybe a little bit of anise.

The drum I continue to beat about a lot of the beers I’ve reviewed here is to let them warm in the glass from fridge temperature to room temperature before finishing the beer. The label even suggests you do this with the beer and I can only agree. As wonderful as the beer was on the first pour into the glass, the complexities, sweetness and sheer deliciousness of the beer only increased as it settled to room temperature. The only slight I can give to the beer, and the minimal element that keeps it from getting a perfect score, is a very slight lingering bitterness after the finish. Again, it was only very minor so the fact that it gets a 4.75 out of 5 and that it won a Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival should let you know this is a World Class Beer and a “must try” if you have the opportunity.

I haven’t had Spellbound’s standard porter so I can’t compare this wood-aged version to the original version. What I can say is that this is the absolute best porter I had in 2017, an all-time best porter for me, and beer that will sit very, very high on the shelf of “New to Me” beers for 2017.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4.75-bottle cap rating.